Travellers' tip: Tramping gear

When many international visitors read that New Zealand is a sub-tropical Pacific Island, what the ‘sub’ part means may not register with them. Yes, we have fantastic, warm summers that are perfect for water activities, and temperatures are pretty temperate year-round in the north.

New Zealand is, however,  a place of extremes, with weather that is extremely changeable – especially in the alpine areas where many of our most famous tramping tracks are located.

Hikers need to remember that New Zealand has a maritime climate, rather than the continental climate typical of larger land masses.

This means the weather can change frequently and rapidly. While visitors expect to see snow on the ground in the South Island in winter, it may be surprising to many to know that it can snow at any time of the year in the mountains.

This means you can’t take a mountain tramp in New Zealand lightly. All trampers, even those on a guided hike, need to have the right clothing and layers is the way to go.  That way, you can add and remove layers according to the weather conditions and the level of exertion needed for each part of the track.

Start with a set of lightweight thermal underwear – modern, synthetic fabrics like polypropylene do a better job of ‘wicking’ moisture away. While it might not be the most fashionable look, practical Kiwis usually wear a pair of polypropylene leggings under a pair of baggy hiking shorts to provide maximum freedom, while keeping warm and dry.

When needed, add an insulating layer for additional warmth. Merino wool or polar fleece will keep you warm, even when wet. Avoid clothes like cotton hoodies or denim jeans which provide no insulation and take forever to dry. Woolen or fleece gloves and hat will also be very welcome if the weather turns on you.

Always take a waterproof jacket with you when hiking in New Zealand. Go for something that is breathable, and make sure it is big enough to go over multiple layers of warm clothing.

If you expect wet or very cold conditions, waterproof over-trousers are a very handy item. Choose a pair with long ankle zips so you can pull them on and off over your boots. Similarly, gaiters will protect your legs and keep your socks dry if you are tramping through snow, deep mud, or scratchy scrub.

Finally, two of the most important items: your shoes and socks. While many of New Zealand’s tracks can be done comfortably in runners, the extra dryness and ankle protection offered by proper hiking boots is worth the investment. Both leather and the newer, high tech fabrics like Gore-Tex are good options – it comes down to personal choices about weight, breathability, waterproofness, and sturdiness.

Good quality hiking socks are another item worth the investment. The best socks are usually a mixture of wool and a synthetic wicking material, free of ridged seams in the wrong places and with a bit of extra padding in the right places.

And, just in case all our talk of snowfall and unexpected storms has alarmed you, there is just as much chance of striking perfect weather conditions. So, make sure you also pack a wide-brimmed sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to avoid getting burnt to a crisp!